So back to the issue of parenting – from the standpoint of a “guest teacher,” the 21st century term for a substitute teacher.

Last week I had my first day working for the District at a high school in North Philly, and it was quite an adventure. I subbed for a Biology teacher and assumed that a science class would yield eager, attentive kids seeking to untangle the wonders of the life sciences.

During the first period that notion was dispelled quickly.

Not one, not two, but 12 students completely ignored my request to open their textbook to a lesson on creating a Punnett square. I found myself at war with a group jamming to iTunes in one corner while rapping at a loud volume, competing with another group fighting to get the Windows Media Player to work on a PC system. Meanwhile I’m thinking why does the District allow Internet access in the classrooms – – during class?

I took matters into my own hands and when the third period class turned Bio into music class I casually walked over to the computer, ripped out the cord, snatched the keyboard, and smiled as 10 teens gasped in horror.

“Ms. Russell, you unplugged the machine…what…why…calm down…“

“This is my class and you are going to listen, now.”

“But no makes us do what we don’t want to do…” and all the other heads nodded up and down in agreement.

Now it was my turn to gasp.

Huh? Assuming the kid was exaggerating a bit, it was an interesting stand-off and an interesting comment. Sure, I know their regular teacher had set limits but it was clear observing them that:

  1. not a lot of limits were set, and
  2. self discipline was a foreign language, like Spanish.

Didn’t someone let on that life is doing what you don’t want to do a lot of the time? Life is self responsibility and self discipline. (I write that knowing I need a lot of those same things. But the thing is, at least someone told me all that at a young age).

Anyway, by the end of the school day I realized these kids appear to have been lied to and I wondered who has been conning them about what it costs to take care of yourself (rent, car, groceries modestly run $2,000/month for a single person) and how you get the money. One of the teachers told me that at least half of the class engaged in crime for their weekly allowance making me wonder did the kids think they could successfully steal or deal $2K/month for life and never get caught?

I myself came from a really strict Jamaican background and not having kids of my own, I’m lost as to what’s going on…my 1970s upbringing is like being a Martian compared to today. So it has been with great interest that I’ve been reading the recent spate of international surveys putting much of the world’s students ahead of Americans.  

Is it that here in America middle class suburban parents often over-indulge and comply with anything and we here in the ‘hood  often become preoccupied with our own lives at the expense of guiding Junior? Are we raising two sets of kids across the social divide: the pampered and clueless and the neglected and lost?

“They” on the hand seem to know how to produce math whizzes and music prodigies. What are they doing right? Well no more Ms. Nice Mom…here’s my list of suggestions for urban parents:

  • put the TV in the living room and limit viewing to two hours during the week.
  • buy 10 used books that kids and adults could read
  • read a story out loud, even to the big kids
  • watch, say, a Tyler Perry movie with French or Spanish subtitles
  • use the Wii as a pre-cursor for an outside game then go play the game
  • buy big sheets of paper and a ton of crayons
  • emphasize no grade under an A is acceptable – – and mean it
  • buy a used piano or drum set and let the kids have it
  • set two hours per day for homework

You might be squeamish about my use of cultural stereotypes, but I feel it’s acceptable since I lived/suffered through the pressure. Please tell me your thoughts on the matter.

the notebook

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